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The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the UK’s existing skills challenges, with a huge shift in the way businesses and organisations function, and a rise in unemployment estimated to be more than 2.5 million, with the most disadvantaged in our communities being the worst affected. The pandemic has however also presented opportunities to improve access to work (less geographical boundaries and emphasis on physical mobility) and widen access to skills development opportunities.

Covid-19 has pressed fast-forward on changes that were already taking place within our society. Think about the decline in the traditional high street; those businesses have been some of the worst affected and have had to adapt, or close. Within 8 weeks of lockdown, digital adoption by consumers and businesses increased by the amount we were expecting to see within 5 years and the demand for website development, online sales and digital marketing skills has soared. Remote or homeworking was already increasing across the UK, but the pandemic forced thousands of businesses to find the right technical IT support and offer flexibility to employees almost overnight.

The Local Government Association also estimated that the ‘low carbon workforce’ will treble by 2030 as technology advances and virtual working becomes even more common. This will lead to a further increase in demand for digital skills alongside ‘Essential Skills’ such as creativity, critical thinking, interpersonal communication skills and leadership skills. These transferable skills are already in short supply in the labour market but we each require them to thrive and increase our resilience in education, work and life.

In addition to digital and essential skills, shortages in specialist professions such as teaching, finance, HR, residential care, social work and nursing were already present in the UK. Many of these have now been exacerbated not only by the pandemic but by Brexit too.

How can you help as a business?

Even if you are a sole trader working on your own, have a think about whether you could offer an internship or short-term placement to a school, college or University student to support their personal and career development. The organisation may even welcome your input and expertise to tailor future educational programmes to current industry needs. If you operate within an industry experiencing technical skills shortages this will be particularly important.

In addition, you could consider offering employment to a career-changer or someone currently unemployed. As well as being personally rewarding, all these options could provide a new perspective on your business and prove beneficial to its growth. Upskilling your existing workforce and yourself is also of extreme importance; resulting in improved job retention and satisfaction. Below are a few programmes and resources available to support your business in tackling the UK’s skills challenge:

  1. The Skills Builder Partnership have created some fantastic resources to support employees or interns develop their essential skills which will be transferable across all careers and support their overall personal development.

  2. The Pledge Cheshire and Warrington is a funded programme aimed at enabling businesses to work together with educators to provide every young person living, studying and/or working in Cheshire with everything they need to succeed in the world of work. The programme helps businesses to develop links to shape their future workforce, as well as offer development opportunities to their existing employees.

  3. Accelerate Cheshire and Warrington is a funded programme designed to support businesses to reskill and upskill their current workforce. The programme can provide 40% or 100% funding towards the cost of your businesses’ training needs and is available to businesses of all sizes from sole traders to multinationals. There is a wide range of training on offer, and their Skills Brokers can help identify individual business needs and create bespoke training packages for your employees and yourself.

  4. A Plan for Jobs was announced by the Government earlier in July in which they introduced the Kickstart Scheme a £2 billion fund to create 6-month work placements aimed at those aged 16-24 who are on Universal Credit and are deemed to be at risk of long-term unemployment. The funding allocated will cover a 25-hour working week at national minimum wage. The aim of the scheme is for the individual to gain high-quality employment and to then be hired as a full-time employee after 6 months. If there is no permanent job available, the employee will still leave the employer with high-quality training and relevant experience to facilitate career progression. The details on how to apply for this scheme are still to be announce and should be live over the coming weeks.

  5. Contact a local University or College to find out about their business engagement schemes. At the University of Chester there are a range of funded Degree Apprenticeships available. There are also numerous opportunities to collaborate with students at the University, from short-term projects through to 5-week summer placements and a range of funded and part-funded internships.

These programmes and resources can provide your business the opportunity to contribute to solving the complex UK’s skills challenges and build a resilient and skilled workforce. If you’d like to discuss student engagement opportunities at the University of Chester contact our team

By Bryony Robertson, Business Development Manager & Emily Pegg, Business Engagement Manager